Trump China Views Shift as Crisis Grows04/02 06:08
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump has held an unequivocal position
about China and the coronavirus --- several of them.
Trump initially praised China, then excoriated Beijing after it made
unsubstantiated claims that the virus originated in the United States. Now,
Trump is back to offering niceties.
The diverging messages have generated finger-pointing by both Beijing and
Washington that is further destabilizing a critical relationship between
countries with the two largest economies and militaries.
There might not be radical shifts in U.S.-China policy during the next
several months, but China's cover-up and disinformation campaign will color the
relationship going forward, Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the
American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday.
"It's very hard to see progress on trade talks after this," he said. He
added that he expects Congress will push to address American dependence on
China for medical and other manufacturing supplies.
There are calls in Congress to hold China accountable for initially covering
up the outbreak. Anticipating a backlash, China's official Xinhua News Agency
last month suggested that Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning
the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the "ocean of
Early in the outbreak, Trump lauded China for its response to COVID-19,
tweeting on Jan. 24 that the U.S. appreciated Beijing's efforts and
"transparency," even though local Chinese officials initially covered up
mounting cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first reported. In
February, as the virus began to spread in Europe, Trump still refrained from
Then Trump started going after Beijing, repeatedly calling COVID-19 the
"Chinese virus." He said he was upset that some Chinese officials had suggested
without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that
the virus was released from a U.S. lab.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, tweeted March 12: "It
might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public
your data! US owe us an explanation!"
Other U.S. officials chimed in. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called
COVID-19 the "Wuhan virus" six times in one State Department briefing. He
chastised the Chinese Communist Party for not allowing U.S. medical experts
into the country, kicking Western journalists out and cracking down on the flow
The National Security Council at the White House also has accused the
Communist Party of launching disinformation campaigns around the world and
retaliating against Chinese citizens who wanted to tell the public about the
The president has said China was trying to blame the United States to
distract the world from the shortcomings of Beijing's own response.
"It could have been stopped in its tracks," Trump said March 19 at a
coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. "Unfortunately, they
(Chinese officials) didn't decide to make it public. But the whole world is
suffering because of it."
Trump abruptly stopped calling it the "Chinese virus" shortly after China's
ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, appeared to split with Zhao, calling the
theory "crazy" and saying that it was not for diplomats to speculate.
Now the president is praising Chinese President Xi Jinping again.
"We have a great trade deal and we would like to keep it. They would like to
keep it and the relationship is good," Trump said Wednesday. He noted that some
of China's numbers on COVID-19 cases seem a bit "low," but he insisted his
relationship with Xi remained "really good."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such
as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe
illness, including pneumonia, and death. The coronavirus has infected at least
940,000 people and killed more than 47,000 worldwide, according to figures
compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Ray Yip, an American public health official who founded the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention's office in China in 2003, said expert teams the
central government sent to Wuhan failed to initially realize that the virus
could spread from human to human, which compounded the consequences.
Once the Chinese government understood the scope of the problem, it moved
decisively, he said. Chinese health officials informed the World Health
Organization about the new virus on Dec. 31. By Jan. 12, Chinese scientists had
sequenced the virus' genetic makeup and shared it with the WHO, drawing praise
for their transparency and swift action.
Yip contends the U.S. response was far worse than China's.
"If we started responding forcibly, properly, tracked down the cases and
snuffed them out, it didn't have to spread," Yip said. "We let an initial small
fire spread, and now the fire is too big --- we have trouble putting it out. If
there is such a thing as suing for malpractice for public health --- this has
to be it."
Dali Yang, a University of Chicago political science professor who
researches Chinese governance and has closely followed the pandemic, also
points a finger at local Chinese officials, who, in early January, were
preparing for "two sessions," an annual event for local and provincial
They didn't want to upset Beijing or cause panic in the streets ahead of the
important Jan. 11-17 meetings so they suppressed information about the
Before and during the "two sessions," China's National Health Commission
dispatched three teams of experts to Wuhan. The first two struggled to get
information from local health officials, especially about whether the virus was
being transmitted from person to person, Yang said. The experts reportedly were
closely watched and were not allowed to talk to emergency doctors or visit
Local officials punished Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who shared
information about local transmission of the virus, which later claimed his
life. When Dr. Ai Fen, head of emergency care at Wuhan Central Hospital,
assessed that the virus was being spread from human to human, she was
admonished for spreading rumors and causing panic, Yang said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Beijing often blames local
authorities for the central government's failings.
"They're still covering up," Blumenthal said. "All discussion of COVID-19 on
social media apps get blocked and censured. ... They are cracking down even
more, censoring even more. They are jailing people who are trying to tell the